As Indians child labour is one of the worst social realities we face. The sad part is that as a society we have accepted it and no longer recognize it as a problem. No matter which part of India we travel we see children working. We see them everywhere whether it working in restaurants, selling newspapers, picking garbage or even cleaning toilets We have become so accustomed to this sight that in a way we have stopped looking at them as children at all. For us, they are “filthy brats” , as some people say, that are paid to serve us and work for us. Forget about us defending these innocent children from the cruel way in which they are treated and exploited by their employers, on the other hand our own behavior becomes more cruel and rough while dealing with these children. I have have personally seen people hitting children for small mistakes, even the manner in which they speak to these children is often so rude. Why? because we know that these children are defenseless.
Have we ever tried to even imagine what they are going through, not only are they completely deprived of every basic right such as a secure home, healthy food, a clean toilet or even a decent school but they have to work for long hours for much lesser pay yet we as a society far from helping them are not even ready to acknowledge them. Children are the most vulnerable part of any society and a majority of the children in India suffer. Every time a child is forced to leave his childhood and take up the responsibility of a job it is a shame to the entire society. We have to take better steps to protect our children.
- India is sadly the home to the largest number of child labourers in the world. The census found an increase in the number of child labourers from 11.28 million in 1991 to 12.59 million.
- In 2001. M.V. Foundation in Andhra Pradesh found nearly 400,000 children, mostly girls between seven and 14 years of age, toiling for 14-16 hours a day in cottonseed production across the country.
- 40% of the labour in a precious stone cutting sector is children.
- NGOs have discovered the use of child labourers in mining industry in Bellary District in Karnataka in spite of a harsh ban on the same.
- In urban areas there is a high employment of children in the zari and embroidery industry.
We can no longer pretend to turn a blind eye on this problem, we need bring change in our society. The first step is to become aware, to find a solution to any problem we must first understand it’s causes.
- Poverty and lack of social security are the main causes of child labour.
The increasing gap between the rich and the poor, privatization of basic services and the neo-liberal economic policies are causes major sections of the population out of employment and without basic needs. This adversely affects children more than any other group. Entry of multi-national corporations into industry without proper mechanisms to hold them accountable has lead to the use of child labour.
- Lack of quality universal education
This has also contributed to children dropping out of school and entering the labour force. A major concern is that the actual number of child labourers goes un-detected. Laws that are meant to protect children from hazardous labour are ineffective and not implemented correctly.
- Bonded child labour
Bonded labour means the employment of a person against a loan or debt or social obligation by the family of the child or the family as a whole. It is a form of slavery. Children who are bonded with their family or inherit a debt from their parents are often found in agricultural sector or assisting their families in brick kilns, and stone quarries. Individual pledging of children is a growing occurrence that usually leads to trafficking of children to urban areas for employment and have children working in small production houses versus factories.
A growing phenomenon is using children as domestic workers in urban areas. The conditions in which children work is completely unregulated and they are often made to work without food, and very low wages, resembling situations of slavery. There are cases of physical, sexual and emotional abuse of child domestic workers. The argument for domestic work is often that families have placed their children in these homes for care and employment. Many of these families are educated and have children of their own yet their treatment of these other children they employee is often cruel and degrading.
According to HAQ: Centre for child rights, child labour is highest among schedules tribes, Muslims, schedule castes and OBC children. The persistence of child labour is due to the inefficiency of the law, administrative system and because it benefits employers who can reduce general wage levels. HAQ argues that distinguishing between hazardous and non hazardous employment is counter-productive to the elimination of child labour. Various growing concerns have pushed children out of school and into employment such as forced displacement due to development projects, Special Economic Zones; loss of jobs of parents in a slowdown, farmers’ suicide; armed conflict and high costs of health care. Girl children are often used in domestic labour within their own homes. There is a lack of political will to actually see to the complete ban of child labour.
The presence of a large number of child labourers is regarded as a serious issue in terms of economic welfare. Children who work fail to get necessary education. They do not get the opportunity to develop physically, intellectually, emotionally and psychologically. Children in hazardous working conditions are in worse condition. Children who work, instead of going to school, remain illiterate which limits their ability to contribute to their own well being as well as to community they live in. Child labour has long term adverse effects for India. To keep an economy prospering, a vital criteria is to have an educated workforce equipped with relevant skills for the needs of the industries. The young labourers today, will be part of India’s human capital tomorrow. Child labour undoubtedly results in a trade-off with human capital accumulation.
Whenever we discuss such issues many people quickly point towards the lack of government initiative, but I feel that as long as we as a society take a stand no matter how many legislative policies the government makes nothing will ever change. We have to take responsibility for how far we have led this problem grow. We must be ashamed because when child in exploited it is not only by his employee but by each one of us who stood their watching. If we could just replace these children with our own we will realize the suffering they are going through. Let’s step up as a society, no matter which part of India you are in you will find numerous NGOs workin to help them. Check out the link below to know more and to help.